“Hanuman House stood like an alien white fortress” in Arwacas, with the Tulsi Store downstairs and a statue of “the benevolent monkey-god Hanuman” standing on the roof, barely visible and vaguely sinister. The “pious, conservative, landowning” Tulsis were descended from the famous Pundit Tulsi, about whom “an irreverent and extremely popular song” was penned after his death in a car accident. Nobody knew why he came to Trinidad as a laborer—his family was prominent in India and, as a result, his family was revered in Trinidad too.
Mr Biswas is immediately enamored with the Tulsis’ elevated status, to which their monumental house and fame by association both attest. Pundit Tulsi’s high status in India would have been exceedingly uncommon among indentured workers—the family’s status in Trinidad both shows how the Hindu community imported traditional, seemingly outdated social codes to the Caribbean and suggests that he might have been fleeing something.
An intimidating Tulsi named Seth hired Mr Biswas at a paltry rate to paint some signs for the windowless and awkwardly-shaped Tulsi Store. As he painted, Mr Biswas secretly watched the unmarried Tulsi girls who worked in the store, and especially the beautiful Shama, who was about sixteen. Because her relatives were all over the store, he felt uncomfortable talking to her, and when she noticed him staring he pretended to whistle and look the other way. But Shama glanced back, too, and so upon returning to Pagotes Mr Biswas announced to Alec, “I got a girl in Arwacas,” to his friend’s delight. News quickly spread, and although Bhandat’s older son (Jagdat) openly bragged of his illegitimate child with a woman of a different race, Bhandat’s younger son (Rabidat) questioned whether Mr Biswas was telling the truth.
The Tulsis’ rudimentary store seems to contrast with their esteem in Trinidad’s Hindu community. The relationship between Bhandat’s older son and a non-Indian woman clearly violates the norms of their community, but ironically Mr Biswas’s romantic aspirations lead him to fall for an orthodox Hindu girl. Mr Biswas’s love for Shama, consummated by a glance, is more a product of his fantastical imagination than any actual relationship; although he based his concept of love on novels, he dramatically overplays his feelings for Shama.
The next day, when the Tulsi Store closed down for lunch, Mr Biswas slipped a note to Shama, who smiled mockingly at him before turning to a client, “a fat Negro woman” looking for “flesh-coloured stockings.” Shama pulled out a pair of black cotton stockings, and the woman grew furious, throwing boxes onto the floor and frightening Shama. This made Mr Biswas even more ashamed, and upon noticing that the commotion had thrown the note into the open he went to hide it—but the woman stood in the way, and the stoic Mrs Tulsi, adorned in as much jewelry as Tara, came inside to speak with her.
The argument between Shama and the “fat Negro woman” demonstrates the deep racial tensions that pervade colonial Trinidad and this novel. Much as in contemporary beauty advertising, “flesh-coloured” means the color of white flesh, and the black woman is infuriated when Shama reminds her of her skin color, which marks her social inferiority in Trinidad. Although Shama looks at race quite literally, colonial racism runs so deep, even among colonized and racialized people, that the woman feels deeply offended.
As Mrs Tulsi stood behind the desk, right next to the note—“I love you and I want to talk to you”—Mr Biswas was convinced that she had found it. She shouted obscenities at Shama in Hindi and gave the woman a free pair of stockings; Shama’s tears made Mr Biswas lose all affection for her. He went to a nearby café and ate a deeply unsatisfying sardine roll, feeling grateful that he did not sign his name on the note. Upon his return to the store, Shama was gone and nobody bothered him as he painted “BARGAINS! BARGAINS!” on a misshapen column. At the end of the day, Seth came inside, muddy and stained, to request in English that Mr Biswas talk with Mrs Tulsi.
Mr Biswas’s expression of love, like his job as a sign-painter, is only possible because of his education. His ability to write a note in English also shows his status and worthiness for marriage to the Tulsi family, leading Seth to address him in English as well. However, Mr Biswas recoils when Shama cries, displaying her immaturity—this implies that she might not be able to reciprocate his affection and may remind Mr Biswas of his weak, long-suffering mother and sister.
Seth led Mr Biswas out the back door to a “damp, gloomy courtyard” and left him in the ugly grey wooden house behind it. He was surprised at the house’s walls—the wooden ones had deteriorated, and those in the dark kitchen were mud—and the juxtaposition of deteriorating and elegant furniture in the main hall.
Mr Biswas is attentive to Hanuman House’s construction, which seems unreflective of the Tulsis’ elevated social status. This focus on construction materials and furniture becomes a trope throughout the rest of the book and ultimately reflects Mr Biswas’s own desire to purchase a sturdy house and create a space of belonging for himself.
Mrs Tulsi sauntered down the stairs, holding the note. Mr Biswas denied writing it but Mrs Tulsi said that someone saw him put it down. The children rushed inside, home from school, alongside Seth, who told Mr Biswas the note was “nothing to be ashamed about.” This astonished the boy, who expected to be kicked out forever, and then Shama’s sisters brought him food, which he was reluctant to eat.
Beyond his astonishment that his romantic feelings are encouraged rather than dismissed, Mr Biswas gets a sense of the Tulsi household’s rhythm and hierarchy as the children come home, Shama’s sisters serve him food, and Mrs Tulsi clearly takes charge over family affairs—even above Seth.
Seth suggested that he might know Mr Biswas’s family and asked who his father was—Mr Biswas simply responded that he was Ajodha’s nephew, and Seth said he remembered selling Ajodha some land. C, one of Shama’s sisters, brought Mr Biswas some tea with “a frank, unimpressed stare,” and her smiling, sunburnt husband (Govind) soon came inside and told Seth how their animals were faring. Mr Biswas wondered whether the couples had their own rooms and where the children lived.
Mr Biswas names Ajodha to draw attention away from his father’s low birth. While Seth and Mrs Tulsi seem excited about his presence, “C” and the other sisters seem used to meeting suitors; curiously, while in traditional Hindu joint families wives move in with their husbands, it appears that the Tulsi brothers-in-law move to Hanuman House with their wives.
Mrs Tulsi asked Mr Biswas whether he liked “the child” and he affirmed that he did. Seth offered to speak to Ajodha and insisted that Shama was “a good child” with “a little bit of reading and writing even.” Dodging the question of whether Shama liked Mr Biswas back, Seth assured Mr Biswas that they were not “forcing” him. Mrs Tulsi called him shy, but Mr Biswas suddenly shouted back that he was not—only that he did not have the money to think about marriage. Mrs Tulsi ensured him that it did not matter.
Because of Hanuman House’s unusual matriarchy, Mr Biswas need not be financially independent to marry Shama—their marriage is closer to a business than a romantic affair, as she is neither present nor interested. Even though he has not even begun to think about marriage in his day-to-day life, social pressures suddenly force him to make a decision.
With the children running about, Mr Biswas “felt trapped,” for “the world was too small, the Tulsi family too large.” (For years, at night when he slept alone and Shama with the children, he regretted “his weakness, his inarticulateness, that evening!”) And the most absurd part of all was that he was overjoyed on his way back to Pagotes. He still felt strong-armed by the Tulsis, but he was elated that “he had been involved in large events. He felt he had achieved status.”
The unruly children signal that Hanuman House is not and will never belong to Mr Biswas, suggesting that he will keep feeling alienated and uncomfortable there, at the fringes of the family. Despite his doubts about whether he would even be happy in the marriage, he went along with it simply because it promised social status—he considers his marriage from an external observer’s status-focused viewpoint rather than his own.
Mr Biswas’s route home passed “ambitious, incomplete, unpainted, often skeletal” wooden houses that deteriorated as their impoverished owners lived in only a few rooms. Mr Biswas felt “he had by one stroke made himself exempt” from the failure they represented and eagerly reported to Alec that he had met his girl’s mother and would soon marry into her wealthy family. As he secretly wondered that night whether he should really return, he began to feel “that it was he who had acted,” and that he must have done so in good conscience. Shama was beautiful and her dowry would be significant, but Mr Biswas still felt “he would be losing romance forever.”
Mr Biswas’s achievement of “status” also suggests that he could avoid the poverty that he had grown up with and grown to expect for his future. Like his accidental education, his accidental marriage would forever transform his opportunities in Trinidad. Mr Biswas modifies his story after the fact to portray himself as the decisive agent in it; fate seems to have acted, and he would rather embrace it than recognize his powerlessness over a situation that soon proved miserable.
In the morning, feeling that all was normal, Mr Biswas returned to work at the Tulsi Store and ate a lunch he did not much enjoy, on brass plates he did not much enjoy, with the family. He noticed a photograph of Pundit Tulsi on the wall, and Mrs Tulsi reminisced solemnly about his protectiveness and decency, mentioning that he built the house with his own hands—out of clay brick that he made in the backyard, which the family calls Ceylon—and then died suddenly right before the family was about to travel to India, leaving the family penniless and two sons unmarried.
The bland food and brass plates are another ominous sign for Mr Biswas’s coming life among the Tulsis—nothing about his visits suggest that he will be satisfied marrying into their family, and his delight at achieving status has already worn off. Pundit Tulsi’s untimely death before returning to India is symbolic of Indians’ general inability to use their right of return from Trinidad, and the name of the backyard—Ceylon—refers to Sri Lanka, the island in India’s “backyard.”
Their family’s sudden poverty was no big deal, affirmed Mrs Tulsi, for they did not much care about “drums and dancing and big dowry” at weddings. Mr Biswas agreed that this fanfare was irrelevant and she compared him to Pundit Tulsi, whose photographs were scattered all over the wall. Mrs Tulsi praises Mr Biswas’s “good blood,” and he agreed that “a simple little ceremony at the registrar’s office” would suffice.
Contrary to his fantasies, Mr Biswas discovers that he stands to receive no dowry, and that the Tulsi family is actually not particularly wealthy. While he expected them to be modern, cosmopolitan, and extravagant like Tara, their status is an entirely separate question from wealth.
When Mr Biswas left Hanuman House, he realized that marriage would create enormous problems for him: where he and his mother, Bipti, would live, and especially how he would get a job. He figured that the Tulsis might help, but as soon as they notified the registrar, they became “unapproachable” and he was too ashamed to tell anyone in Pagotes that he was to marry. He felt unacknowledged and invisible at Hanuman House, as even Shama “ostentatiously ignored him.” Despite this, he never considered reneging on his plans, for he felt entirely committed. Mr Biswas soon moved into Hanuman House, but left most of his clothes at home and lied to his mother to ensure that he would return there.
Although Bipti wanted nothing more than for Mr Biswas to marry, this obviously conflicts with her reluctance to ever leave Pagotes. He soon finds himself in a fifth unhomely home, amidst a new family he neither likes nor trusts. Amidst his frustrations, much as in the past, he chooses to withdraw and sulk rather than voice his concerns and seek to improve his situation. As Shama appears for only the second time in the book outside the prologue, she and Mr Biswas are already married and already failing to get along.
After the marriage ceremony, Mr Biswas moved with Shama into an upstairs room in Hanuman House and began plotting his escape. He did not touch her—not that he would have known how—or even look at her. He received no dowry, house, or job from the Tulsis—Mrs Tulsi and Seth did not even consider it.
There is no romance or elation in Mr Biswas’s marriage to Shama; he has again unluckily stumbled into a situation that dashed his high expectations and waited too long to do anything about it. The marriage is a mere formality—they live together, even though Shama already lived in Hanuman House, but they barely interact.
The Tulsis had a servant whom everyone called Miss Blackie (except Mrs Tulsi), but the daughters did most of the housework, and the husbands worked their land and cared for their animals in return for food, housing, paltry wages, and respect from everyone outside the family. “They became Tulsis,” and all the Tulsi daughters who married wealthy or powerful men left and joined their families. Mr Biswas began to realize how little the family cared for their daughters, and that “he was expected to become a Tulsi.”
There is no subtlety in the Tulsis’ open racism toward the so-called “Miss Blackie,” even despite Mrs Tulsi’s graciousness toward the woman who asked for “flesh-colored stockings” a few pages before. The family is both remarkably female-centric (the sons-in-law join their wives’ family and rely on the family for work and survival) and remarkably indifferent; the daughters are not coddled, nor is Mr Biswas, to his continued frustration.
After finishing the signs in the Tulsi Store, as Shama began to cry about being neglected in front of her family, Mr Biswas packed his things and returned to Pagotes, coming to see the whole affair as a “good fright.” However, Bipti immediately began praising him for marrying into a good family and went to visit Hanuman House the next day. Upon her return, she was thrilled with the family’s lovely manners and beautiful house—by which she meant the upper floor of the clay-brick building, which Mr Biswas was not even allowed to enter.
Of course, Bipti’s values align more closely with the Tulsis’ than with her son’s; her excitement at visiting the renovated section of Hanuman House compounds Mr Biswas’s sense of betrayal, as though the Tulsis consciously project one image of themselves to the world while guarding the true disarray they live in.
After hiding at home for two days, Mr Biswas visited Tara’s house in search of emotional support and found Bhandat’s younger son (Rabidat) reading That Body of Yours to Ajodha, who exclaimed, “Married man!” and called Tara over. She wept and gave Mr Biswas twenty dollars and then dinner, speaking with “unhappiness and disappointment,” which Mr Biswas echoed in noting that he didn’t receive a dowry or compensation for the signs he painted.
Ajodha is again remarkably tone-deaf and tells Mr Biswas precisely the opposite of what he wants to hear; Tara, on the other hand, continues to be his only source of comfort, and the only person whose values and goals for him align with his own. Here, she laments the fact that Mr Biswas has unwittingly thrown his modern predilections away and stumbled into a traditional Hindu family.
Tara insisted on going to Hanuman House and soon returned with the news that he would be running a shop for the Tulsis “in a village called The Chase.” Nothing could change the fact that Mr Biswas was now married. Tara explained that the Tulsis wanted to help him with the job, rather than “any dowry or big wedding,” because his was a “love match.” Ajodha yelled “Love match!” in excitement at Rabidat, Bhandat’s younger son, whose taunts Mr Biswas primarily blamed for his marriage. Tara and Ajodha encouraged Mr Biswas to head back to Shama, and he was disappointed when Tara claimed that his wife was “none of her business.”
The Tulsis’ insistence that Mr Biswas and Shama’s marriage is a “love match” is horribly ironic, since it was truly an arranged marriage that Mr Biswas stumbled into in his quest for a love match; still, this is a convenient excuse for the Tulsis, who increasingly seem stingy and antagonistic rather than proud, accepting, and generous, as before. Unsurprisingly, Mr Biswas also shifts the narrative, blaming Rabidat for setting his mind on love and sex; ultimately, he found limited empathy but was altogether too afraid to ask for what he really wanted: a way out of his marriage.
Noticing his apprehension, Tara asked Mr Biswas whether he was “afraid of them already, like every other man in that place.” And a few days later, he returned to Hanuman House.
Tara easily saw how Hanuman House’s men were cut off from the world, unable to pursue their own desires because of their dependence on the Tulsis.
Surprised that Mr Biswas had returned so fast, Shama asked whether he was “tired catching crab in Pagotes”—that occupation was “the lowest of the low.” He said he had returned to “help all-you catch some here” as everyone stared and then continued on with their lives, “hardly to notice him.” His status in the house was “fixed”: the rest saw him as untrustworthy, weak, and contemptible.
Mr Biswas has no importance in Hanuman House: there is nothing for him to do, and nobody relies on him or notices his presence. While he no longer needs to work for food or shelter, he never gains the status he thought marrying into the Tulsis would grant him.
Nobody mentioned the store in The Chase, so Mr Biswas continued his sign-writing as best he could until he struck up a friendship with Misir, who worked for the Trinidad Sentinel. Every day, he returned home unceremoniously, propped himself up in bed and read as the Tulsis complained about his pants made of floursacks.
The Tulsis are evidently poor at keeping their promises, and they and Mr Biswas seem to block one another out as much as possible. The reader knows that, like Misir, Mr Biswas ended up working for the Sentinel, although his path there is far from direct.
The nosy children slept in the Book Room, on the verandah, and on the bridge that connected that part of the house to the statue-filled drawing-room that Bipti had found so impressive. The small, unadorned prayer-room lay above the drawing-room.
Naipaul’s close attention to detail and architecture exemplify his realism; while the children have no rooms, a whole wing of the house is cordoned off for religious purposes, which metaphorizes the way that, in this book, traditional Hinduism impedes people from effectively using their resources.
Mr Biswas always stayed in his small corner of the long room; Shama even brought his food there, and despite his insistent silence she gradually realized that “she had to make do with what Fate had granted her.” When eating, he would ask about the “little gods”—her studious brothers (Shekhar and Owad) who slept in and seldom left the new upstairs wing that included the drawing-room and prayer-room. He also asked about Seth, the “Big Boss,” and Mrs Tulsi, the “old queen” or “old hen” or “old cow.” During his “vile abuse of the family,” he would sometimes spit into the courtyard downstairs, hoping to hit some of them.
Again, people explain their misery through fate rather than trying to overcome it; because of the traditional expectations surrounding Hindu marriage, Shama has no choice but to put up with Mr Biswas’s cruelty and jealousy toward the “little gods” who receive more attention than he ever did. He decides to take out his own misery by making Shama’s life miserable, too—their desire to escape one another is perhaps the only thing they have in common.
After a few weeks, Mr Biswas grew tired of hating everyone in the house and decided to make some “alliances.” The sisters talked about their husbands’ ailments and took care of each other’s children; Shama and C were close, so Mr Biswas approached C’s handsome and jovial husband, Govind, a former coconut-seller who now worked in the Tulsis’ fields. Mr Biswas considered Govind “a fellow sufferer” who had thrown away his own life to become part of the Tulsis’, and when Govind occasionally agreed to chat with Mr Biswas, they had little to talk about besides the Tulsis—whom Govind didn’t much mind.
Mr Biswas tried to warm up to the Tulsis for entirely selfish reasons—his opinion of them did not change, but he merely found his own negativity unsustainable, then was astonished when Govind found Mr Biswas to be unsavory, too. Mr Biswas’s deep lack of self-awareness is on full display here: he does not seem to understand that the other Tulsis mostly get along and projects his disdain for the family onto his uncannily cheerful brother-in-law.
One day, Shama reported that Seth wanted to talk to Mr Biswas, who refused to go downstairs until she began crying. In front of the whole family, Seth asked Mr Biswas how long he had been living there—two months—and whether he had “been eating well”—of course he had. Mr Biswas felt small and powerless as Seth insisted he should be feeding his wife rather than letting her family feed him, remarked on Mr Biswas’s cruel nicknames for his family members, and began reprimanding Mr Biswas—now in Hindi—for failing to appreciate the Tulsis’ generosity.
Finally, Seth holds Mr Biswas accountable for his venomous attitude toward the family and parasitic dependence on them; but the protagonist’s response is again self-pity rather than the self-help he has read so many books about. Even though Seth had previously addressed Mr Biswas in English (when planning his marriage with Shama), now he switches to Hindi to express his frustrations; this switch reveals the relative prestige of English over Hindi in Trinidad, even among Indians.
Seth asked Mr Biswas to work on the fields—his literacy was no excuse, for Seth and the “gods” could read and write too. The younger of those gods, Owad, implored Mr Biswas to apologize, but Mr Biswas “abruptly lost his temper” and yelled that he would never apologize before rushing back upstairs.
Mr Biswas continues to see himself as above working on the sugarcane estates, like his brothers and father, and still cannot understand how he might be taking advantage of the Tulsis’ generosity.
Mr Biswas packed his things as he argued with Shama and finally asked her to tell Seth he was never paid for the signs he painted. She refused, and they resumed bickering, until C and Seth’s wife, Padma, came upstairs to beg him to stay. C revealed that her name was Chinta “to indicate the depth of her unhappiness and the sincerity of her plea,” which proved to Mr Biswas that Govind told Seth about his “blasphemies,” and Chinta had come to placate him.
It is unclear why the Tulsis would want Mr Biswas to stay, unless they are afraid that his departure would hurt the family by breaking the formal contract of marriage between him and Shama (which has ruined the lives of both parties). Of course, this is the same reason Mr Biswas reluctantly returned to Hanuman House after fleeing to Pagotes—even though their marriage was pushed through as a formality, everyone now feels bound to the social convention it expresses.
Mr Biswas realized that, for the first time, he had a true enemy—and so he decided to stay, thinking “he had already won” and feeling pity for Chinta and Padma, who showed little emotion because she had ostensibly been called to resolve Seth’s conflicts many times before. Mr Biswas admitted that he would not go—Chinta stopped crying but Shama started to, and her body seemed to melt.
The family’s efforts to keep him at Hanuman House lead Mr Biswas to double down on his belligerence; he has gone from resignation to a sincere belief that he can beat them at their own game, whatever that happens to be, and so for the first time he chooses to fight back rather than run away.
Mr Biswas started to seek out friendships with his other brothers-in-law. First was the pale and sickly Hari, who spent extraordinary amounts of time eating rice and using the latrine. He looked uniquely unfit to work on the Tulsis’ estate and, as a trained pundit, found no greater pleasure than reading upstairs after work and performing puja. The only place Mr Biswas could talk with him was the dinner table, but he chewed his food forty times, so Mr Biswas spoke quickly to take advantage of the occasional gaps between bites that were his only chance at conversation: “What do you feel about the Aryans?”
Hari, a pundit who would ordinarily stand at the top of the Hindu social hierarchy, nevertheless has to work in the fields; Naipaul again shows how traditional Hindu practices become absurd when displaced to Trinidad. This corroborates Mr Biswas’s sense that the Tulsis treat the brothers-in-law unfairly—of course, despite all his complaining about his treatment, he remains the only brother-in-law who does not have to work on the fields.
The Aryans were Hindu missionaries from India who protested the orthodox tenets of their religion: they wanted to overturn caste and reject idols, educate women and accept converts. Hari was clearly not amused and accused Mr Biswas of “doing a lot of thinking about them.”
The Aryans’ progressive Hinduism runs contrary to many of the Tulsis’ core practices: they barely educate their daughters, whom they marry only to high-caste men, and keep a room full of religious idols.
Indeed, “Mr Biswas was almost an Aryan convert” because of his conversations with Misir, who told him to listen to the “purist” pundit Pankaj Rai. Mr Biswas did not know what “purist” meant and was afraid to ask, but he liked the sound of the word and looked forward to the opportunity to meet “the Tulsis’ most important rivals,” the wealthy landowning Naths. Mr Biswas immediately appreciated that Pankaj Rai wore an elegant coat and was as short as he was, with “an equally ugly nose” and “unusually heavy, drooping eyelids” that made his critiques of orthodox Hinduism particularly poignant. Mr Biswas ended up agreeing with the pundit’s arguments and was honored that he signed a copy of his book with reference to Mr Biswas as a “dear friend.”
Mr Biswas’s hilarious incompetence leads him to a revere a man he scarcely understands with a label he scarcely understands—his original motivation for investigating the Aryans was the opportunity to further his campaign against the Tulsis who continued to tolerate and provide for him, and his immediate motivation for revering Pankaj Rai was the man’s aloofness, power, and willingness to flatter Mr Biswas by calling him a “dear friend.” As when he marries into the Tulsi family, Mr Biswas simply admires Pankaj Rai’s authority.
Upon returning home, Mr Biswas mocked Shama for what Pankaj Rai would do to her high-caste family members—Seth would become a leather-worker and the “two gods” (Shekhar and Owad) barbers. Worst of all, Mrs Tulsi “ain’t a Hindu at all” because she married Shama off so unceremoniously and sent her sons to a Catholic school: “Ro-man Cat-o-lic! Roman cat, the bitch.” But at least Pankaj Rai would let her convert. The Tulsis, Mr Biswas insisted, were “just one big low-caste bunch.”
Even though Pankaj Rai wants to abolish caste distinctions, Mr Biswas can only formulate insults in terms of the caste system; again, he ends up looking like a fool, even though his well-worn message of hatred for the Tulsis gets across as intended.
Although Mr Biswas intended to address Hari respectfully and expected that his brother-in-law “would welcome disputation,” Hari and his wife barely responded at dinner. Later, Mr Biswas met him on the verandah with his copy of Pankaj Rai’s book, Reform the Only Way, but Hari gave it back after a glance. Mr Biswas resolved not to try and make friends with the other, “less intelligent and more temperamental” brothers-in-law.
Mr Biswas’s genuine but inept attempts at engaging Hari meet the most hurtful possible response, dismissal, which bolsters his suspicion that he can never truly belong at Hanuman House. He considers himself superior to the family’s “less intelligent and more temperamental” men—this also describes him vis-à-vis Hari.
After a week or so, Seth asked Mr Biswas about Pankaj Rai in the hall and mentioned that he was almost imprisoned for “interfering with Nath’s daughter-in-law.” Despite Pankaj Rai’s two degrees—BA and LLB—Seth did not trust him. Mr Biswas, who by now insisted on speaking English with the Tulsis, was perturbed but still defended his “dear friend,” rejecting Seth’s “piece of scandal.” Seth said he would “cut the balls off all these Aryans” and mentioned that Mr Biswas should try and make friends with his “creole converts.”
Just as Mr Biswas fell for the Tulsis’ status, charm, and authority but later became disillusioned with them, it turns out that Pankaj Rai was also an alluring fraud, but Mr Biswas is unwilling to admit it here. His insistence on speaking English reflects his presumptuous belief that he is better than them: more “modern” and, of course, closer to Trinidad’s British overlords.
Mr Biswas shouted “Hello, pundit!” to Hari on the verandah as he passed to the Book Room, observed the decaying religious texts that filled its shelves, and turned around to greet Hari again on the verandah: “Hello, Mr God.” He told Shama he had a new nickname for Hari: “the constipated holy man.” She had started playing into his game, and he offered “the holy ghost,” too, before noting that “the two gods” (Shekhar and Owad) looked more like monkeys and joking that “the place is like a blasted zoo.” Shama suggests that he should be called “the barking puppy dog,” but he preferred “man’s best friend.” They lay in bed together, her head on his flabby arm.
After Hari rejects Mr Biswas’s friendly advances, the protagonist yet again covers his woundedness with provocative condescension. He and Shama bond only when she begins to acknowledge his ridiculous name-calling and turns it against him; he feels so completely alienated and ignored that he finds comfort in her willingness to engage with him at all, even if she is demeaning him back.
Instead of his brothers-in-law, Mr Biswas decided to hang around the Aryans, who were now led by Shivlochan, a definite non-purist who barely spoke English and effectively let Misir set the group’s policy agenda: more education, less child marriage, more love marriages (Misir called arranged marriages like his own “cat-in-bag,” which Mr Biswas found charming). Misir and Shivlochan agreed that “peaceful persuasion” would be the best strategy to spread their ideas, but Mr Biswas protested that they should not “start with your own family” because his was so orthodox. If not “peaceful persuasion,” Mr Biswas and Misir agreed, the only option was “conversion by the sword.” Shivlochan protested their rejection of non-violence but Misir talked him down and called the Sentinel, which printed a two-inch notice on the AAA (Arwacas Aryan Association) the next day.
The ostentatious name of Aryan leader “Shivlochan, BA (Professor)” indicates his charlatanism, but so does his inability to speak English—even among by Hindus trying to save Hinduism, English is the language of prestige. Debating how to transform a religion with hundreds of millions of adherents from a Caribbean island tens of thousands of miles away from India, the Aryans seem more self-congratulatory than revolutionary. But Mr Biswas still finally finds a group where he seems to belong. Even more egregiously than before, Mr Biswas commits himself to righteous, principled actions that he will clearly never actually undertake; Naipaul continues to expose his antiheroic resignation to fate through contrasts with conventional heroic stereotypes like the religiously motivated crusading warrior.
The newspaper notice mentioned Mr Biswas’s name, and Shama insisted that he talk to Seth, who complained that he threatened to “disgrace the family” and hinder the boys’ odds of getting into the Catholic college. Mr Biswas declared them “just jealous” and “the elder god” (Shekhar) blamed Mrs Tulsi for letting Mr Biswas move in. Furious that Mr Biswas wanted the girls to go to school and choose their own husbands, Seth declared that “The Black Age has come at last.” Mr Biswas commented that he still agreed with “the old ways too” but never got what the Tulsis promised him—when he did, he said, he would finally leave. Mr Biswas was clearly defeated, but in his mind “he was winning” his war against the Tulsis.
Mr Biswas’s Aryan antics actually do advance his campaign against the Tulsis: he threatens their carefully-cultivated reputation, and most importantly the chances of their sons, who Mrs Tulsi coddles so extensively because their success promises to determine the entire family’s further down the line. Yet he still does not seem to understand that, even though he wants to leave Hanuman House, the Tulsis do not—for precisely the same reason—and accordingly his threats to stay fall on deaf ears.
Soon, Mrs Weir, a sugar estate owner’s wife who took a particular interest in Hinduism, began coming to Aryan Association meetings and invited a handful of Aryans to tea, giving them Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, Epictetus’s Discourses, and various “other booklets” before she left. These booklets soon littered the Tulsi house and led Mr Biswas to an argument with “the elder god” (Shekhar), who in fact wore a crucifix, the weekend before he left for his examinations for the Catholic college. Shama began taking Mr Biswas upstairs, and Chinta ran to make sure she did not faint before continuing to the room of Mrs Tulsi, who actually had fainted.
The educational and religious landscape of Trinidad is cross-fertilized with various traditions and ideas: the orthodox Tulsis, who worry about their son-in-law Mr Biswas being associated with a progressive Hindu organization, nevertheless send their children to Catholic schools; Mr Biswas freely reads Greek and Roman philosophy and treats the Tulsis’ latent Catholicism with an irreverence that offends the family. Shekhar is so central to the household—the future rides on him—that his dissatisfaction leads Mrs Tulsi to tears.
Mrs Tulsi fainted frequently, and her children had a complex protocol to get her to her room, which was usually led by Padma or, in her absence, the widowed Sushila, whose status in the household was never quite clear. While Mrs Tulsi’s children fanned and massaged her, the children waited downstairs in silence with the sons-in-law. One of them “was invariably responsible for precipitating Mrs Tulsi’s faint” and would be ostracized until things returned to usual the following evening.
The Tulsi sisters are clearly tightly knit and well-coordinated when it comes to taking care of their mother, whom they invariably put before their husbands; again, this deviates from the traditional Hindu family structure that makes women the property of their husbands’ families, often even after they are widowed. Indeed, while the Tulsi women’s status largely depends on their having husbands, Sushila retains an important role among the sisters during periods of crisis.
Mr Biswas refused to wait downstairs, as was expected, and nobody would talk to him in the morning—until he asked Mrs Tulsi whether she was feeling better and she replied that she was, which astonished and pleased him. He ate his biscuits and tea on the staircase as Owad, “the younger god,” brought a camphor cube from his morning puja to Mrs Tulsi, who—to everyone’s surprise—ordered him to take it to Mr Biswas next. Mr Biswas rejected his “idol worship,” everyone fell silent, and Mrs Tulsi went upstairs.
After offending Mrs Tulsi, Mr Biswas continues to flout the household’s normal procedures; nothing will make him indulge the family’s religiosity. The Tulsis are so fed up with Mr Biswas that they try to reach out to him in order to make him feel comfortable at Hanuman House—but, in rejecting their efforts, he is now driving his failure to belong there.
Shama cried out and Owad’s eyes welled up with “tears of anger;” even the Catholic Miss Blackie was offended. Mr Biswas quoted Pankaj Rai’s criticism of idols and Owad called him a Christian; Sushila told Owad to calm down and “just give him enough rope. He will hang himself.”
The Tulsis’ religious predilections again turn ironic: Owad, a Catholic school student, derides Mr Biswas as a Christian. The widow Sushila appears as the voice of reason; her formal ostracism due to her husband’s death does not affect her important role in the family’s social fabric.
Mr Biswas sang an old song from school upstairs, then left Hanuman House. All day, his depression compromised his sign-painting. He returned home, his joy transformed “into disgust at his condition” and hopelessness about his “campaign against the Tulsis.” He wished to disappear—the house would go on without him, as had all the houses he ever lived in as nothing more than “a visitor, an upsetter of routine.” Bipti probably was not thinking of him, and his childhood home had been destroyed.
When rejection strikes afresh, Mr Biswas regresses to thinking about school, possibly the only place where he ever felt comfortable and motivated. In a rare moment of genuine reflection, he explicitly realizes that he has never belonged or been wanted anywhere; he has always been precariously dependent on others and never had others depend on him.
Shama brought Mr Biswas’s food upstairs, and he complained again about “those blasted brass plates” and the preponderance of starch on them. He spit out the window and finally hit someone: Owad. He tried again and missed, paced around his plate and picked it up, planning to throw it all out the window. But he decided to just spill the food down on Owad, who bawled and called Mrs Tulsi.
Although Mr Biswas’s complaints about the food and plates are routine, his relationship with the Tulsis has clearly reached a breaking point. Owad is an obvious target, since he represents all that Mr Biswas tasted but never quite received: love from his family, a quality education, and status in the household.
After a commotion downstairs, Govind came upstairs and attacked Mr Biswas, who “allowed himself to be pummeled.” Chinta called the others to stop Govind before he killed Mr Biswas and got sent to the gallows. Mr Biswas thought clearly throughout the beating, trying his hardest to strike Govind back but deciding it might be “unmanly to do so.” Owad cheered for Govind to kill Mr Biswas, and the women’s laments did little to stop him. Mr Biswas felt no pain until, suddenly, “he heard himself bawling,” and everyone fell silent.
The consistently passive Mr Biswas does not even fight back, even going so far as to invert the conventional association of masculinity with strength and stamina in order to justify his apparent weakness. His own actions seem to elude him: he notices himself crying as though in the third person, from the perspective of a removed observer.
Everyone but Shama and Mr Biswas left, and as dinner began downstairs, Mr Biswas noticed “a new bond” among the members of the Tulsi family: himself. He asked Shama to bring him dinner, but she began to cry, and “he would have liked to hit her.” She told him to get his own food and left.
Finally, Mr Biswas eventually wins attention in Hanuman House. For the first time, Shama is not even willing to perform the prescribed wifely duties that defined her entire relationship with Mr Biswas.
Alone, Mr Biswas kicked the lotus pattern on the wall and then his books, felt his “heavy and dead” face and noticed the pain he felt everywhere. He saw his “absurd” reflection in the mirror and resolved to go get the salmon and bread with peppersauce that he wanted for dinner. He looked at his body, which he felt he could not develop because of “all that bad food from that murky kitchen,” and put on a hat to cover his face. He passed the whole family, insulting their food on his way out of the house, and began eating oysters with peppersauce at a roadside stall.
Mr Biswas only decided to leave Hanuman House and take independent, disobedient action because Shama refused to bring his food; he manages to even fault the Tulsis for feeding him too well, after spending his childhood malnourished. He responds to Govind’s beating after the fact, by attacking the few inanimate objects that he actually cherishes—his books—in a sort of proxy self-destruction.
The oysterman drunkenly told a disjointed story about his son shooting a tin can before waving a stick around and yelling, “Tell anybody to come!” Meanwhile, the woman with him kept shucking the oysters. In all, Mr Biswas ate 26, and he paid his 13 cents as he walked with satisfaction to Mrs Seeung’s shop, where he bought salmon and bread; the bread was stale, but he was happy to defy the Tulsis’ wishes by eating bread from a shop, which they believed was unclean. He did not enjoy the salmon but felt he had to finish it and was increasingly distressed in doing so.
Mr Biswas seems to enjoy the feeling of disobedience more than what he actually gets by disobeying the Tulsis; even though he hates having to eat their food, it seems that his alternatives are not particularly satisfying. He feels compelled to finish the salmon to prove that he is dedicated to rebellion, even though none of the Tulsis are present or would much care; his distress suggests that he may be realizing his failure to think through the consequences of leaving.
The next morning, Seth kicked Mr Biswas out of the house. He went to the shop in The Chase along with Shama, who was pregnant
Mr Biswas managed to hold on much longer at Hanuman House than at his previous residences, but again finds himself rejected and ejected (although, this time, his errors were certainly not accidental).